BouBou’s is a family-run fine dining establishment in Lisboa, Portugal. The open kitchen and private courtyard adds a relaxed feel to the fine-dining restaurant which is run by husband and wife team Agnes and Alex. Their menu is seasonal, the ambiance is warm and welcoming and the whole concept is nurtured from the duo’s passion for food and excellence.
In this interview, we speak with Agnes, about the team’s gastronomic journey, what it is like to work in a family business and the success they are enjoying. Read on to discover more.
Was the hospitality sector always where you wanted to carve your career?
I studied law in Budapest and a friend of mine offered me an opportunity to work in London for summer so I could improve my English and one thing led to another; falling in love with the city the endless opportunities and I found myself in front of Mandarin Oriental Hotel where I went for afternoon tea and ended up with a job offer.
Alexis was always interested in journalism and politics however the French lifestyle, summer jobs and family heritage got him into hospitality.
Tell us more about the moment you decided to set up Boubou and the journey so far.
We came to Lisbon with the intention of opening a member’s club however the building owner pulled out at the last minute and there we were with all our boxes (and a cat!) without a job or future project. We had our hospitality consulting company which we’d created when in London and we helped a few restaurants and hotels in Comporta, Porto and Algarve, however, there were many barriers that were proving extremely difficult to overcome and we doubted its future.
Alexis woke in 2017 august, while I was packing my bag to go home to London, he said if people do not want to hire us for our advice then we should show them what they are missing… ..different food styles, consistency in delivery, top service and a better approach towards staff.
So, he went online to look for a restaurant to buy and booked a viewing for the same day in Principe Real. We went there, the place looked horrible like a flea market! Each corner was stuffed with something, no harmony, dark and ruined. He said, ‘ok darling we can fly back to London this city is not for us, you were right!’ However, all I saw was a great location, a private patio in Principe Real with live banana trees and a lot of scope to change it all.
I wanted to stay and do this project so we started drawing measuring, colouring and writing our business plan. In July 2018, we opened our own little restaurant.
What are the challenges you face and the benefits you reap from being a husband and wife team?
It is not easy and mostly we disagree 🙂 We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses so we build on that every day. We have learned to compromise and together we are unbreakable – one of us always picks up the other when everything seems to be falling apart. Trust is key and we know we both love this business and why we have done it and what we want to reach in life therefore every day we say yes and keep going.
We also have two babies under the age of two – so that is a good way to ensure our home-life is not always focussed on the restaurant!
Are you competitive with one another?
We are extremely competitive! Looking at who has the higher revenue on a day they worked, who gets the phone calls from regular customers… but that’s the way we love it, we both are very driven people who are ready to work hard to succeed.
Alexis’ sister, Louise, is a hugely talented chef and runs the kitchen at BouBou – again please tell us more about the family dynamics behind the restaurant.
Louise was travelling in South America when our project started. At that point, she needed time for herself to discover, be inspired and find her calling. Alexis and I were always very cautious to have his sisters around us, one of us always worked with one of the sisters in London to support and guide as we are the oldest. I have no siblings but I value family and insisted on being close, supporting each other and being united.
Louise asked if she could join and we agreed that it would be great to have her in the team. We now so cover all areas within the family and of course, her talent is undeniably showing.
Louise is currently competing in the French competition TOP CHEF and is doing very well, what impact (if any) will this have on her career and your restaurant?
This could have an incredible impact on Louise – she returned from the shooting of the show tired but happy and fulfilled and of course, all the new ideas are extras on top.
Within the first hours of the show airing, we had an incredible amount of new bookings and our inbox and our restaurant is full every night. Not just with French clients but many who have watched the show. Your dishes present influences from all around the world – where do you find inspiration for new menus?
Louise had always one condition: she needs to be free in what she cooks and in time. So, we agreed that each year she can take 4-5 weeks’ holidays when she travels around the world and fills herself up with good energy and inspiration.
There is a real emphasis at BouBou on zero waste – how do you deliver on this?
This is a work in progress and really hard work. Apart from the obvious changes our team must be trained continuously to keep this ethos at the forefront of their minds in whatever they are doing. For example, instead of wasting some leftover veggies and fruits the bar uses it to create some special essences or ferments some non-alcoholic drinks from them. It’s a great way for the team to bond too.
For those who have not yet visited, how would you describe the vibe at BouBou’s?
BouBou’s is hidden just a little off the main road behind the flower wall where you can find a night when you escape all your work and hardship and you can fill yourself with genuine, tasty food and most importantly be surrounded by friendly and knowledgeable people who are there to make your night unforgettable. You get a lot of love as we care and listen to you.
Are there any exciting plans in the pipeline for you as a team and/or BouBou?
Yes, we are opening Ninho a clubhouse in Lisbon and we will be operating the F&B department. Chef Louise has a lot on her plate (pardon the pun!) but we have interesting projects, just out of the city and many events and pop-ups in France, that will hopefully be finalised soon.
Luxury is an entirely subjective concept – what does it mean to you?
Luxury for us is time: the time we give to our guests to prepare their food, to prepare the restaurant before arrival and place small amenities around to make sure they have everything they might need, the time we spend to make those extra miles to make them feel loved.
Finally, what is your life motto? (if you have one)
There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.